(originally appeared in the Australian Jewish News on September 28, 2007)
Directed by Greg Mottola
Written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Starring Jonah Hill, Michael Sera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Seth Rogen and Bill Hader,
“Superbad” is the hot new addition to the “I am graduating high school and I really want to get laid now” film, a genre that was introduced by “American Graffiti” in 1973, polished by “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” in 1982, and almost made into a cliché by the “American Pie” trilogy (1999, 2001 & 2003). There are some key rules in this film genus: set the action near the graduation of high school; create an assortment of geeky, dorky, clumsy and naive 18 year-old boys; and give them only one day and night to have the experiences of a lifetime, learning the important lessons that they will take with them to university and the rest of their life.
Sound forgettable? Maybe, but with an autobiographical script by Seth Rogen (“Knocked Up”) and his childhood friend Evan Goldberg, produced by Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”, “Talladega Nights” and “40 Year Old Virgin”) and surprisingly well-directed by Greg Mottola, “Superbad” is one of the comedy hits of this season for teenage boys of all ages.
What most mainstream viewers will miss is that all three of the geeks are Jewish: Seth (played by Jonah Hill from “Knocked Up”, who describes himself as a “nice Jewish boy”), Evan (Michael Sera) and Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Seth and Evan have been best childhood buddies for years, but their friendship is about to split: Evan has been accepted by Dartmouth College (one the elite Ivy League universities in the northeast, which your reviewer attended for one year), as well as the superdork Fogell, but Seth will be attending the local state university (somewhere in generic California). They are all shy around girls, but have the most astonishing sex talk (I lost count of how many times the “f” word was used within five minutes of the opening). The complexity here is that Seth and Evan’s relationship is far more passionate and deep than any they have with the girls around them; there is no doubt of the homoerotic subtext (also evident in “Knocked Up” between the Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen characters), even in the final scene of the film.
Seth has been invited to a “cool” party by the very pretty Jules (Emma Stone) and offers to purchase alcohol for the group. Evan has look been sweet on Becca (Martha McIsaac), but stumblingly has no idea how to talk to her or pick up on her obvious flirtatious clues. But salvation appears close at hand: Fogell has obtained a realistic-looking fake ID – a Hawaiian drivers license in the name of “McLovin”. Theirs is the breathtaking naiveté of youth: the plan (such as it is) is to get the objects of their affection drunk enough to have sex with them, because they have no confidence that it would ever happen without alcohol.
This trio of bumblers then have as many obstacles thrown in their path as possible in their quest for booze. Fogell/McLovin is bashed by a robber just as he is about to complete his successful liquor purchase, leading to an evening of adventures with two truly crazy local policemen: Office Slater (Bill Hader) and Officer Michaels (played by co-writer Rogen), and notably marked as a Jewish character during a hilarious interrogation of the African-American liquor store attendant.
Some films pull their punches when going for the comic biff, but “Superbad” has the true courage of its convictions: the film’s makers set up their situations and determinedly bring them to logical conclusions. The result is a truly foul-mouthed, frequently hilarious coming-of-age film. Sure, it owes plenty to “Clueless”, the “Pie” films and hosts of others (with even a knowing throwaway line to the Coen brothers), but underneath this dogged male pursuit of sex is an underlying sweetness in the characters – and the inevitable happy ending with the gentle moral of “be good”.